First, if you have not read this post from Hyperbole and a Half, take 5 minutes and do that – it’s hilarious, and we could all use a laugh these days. Then come right back!
Okay, so now that you’ve had a good chuckle… You know why I brought this post up, don’t you? On the morning of November 9, we all woke up and said “I WILL DO ALL OF THE THINGS! EVERY DAY! FOREVAAAAH!”. Since that day we’ve been doing some incredible, amazing stuff – calling, writing, lobbying, advocating, networking – doing all of the things.
But, to use dieting as an example (it is January 1, after all), if you want to lose weight you can’t just starve yourself for 8 weeks and expect to look like Giselle Bundchen. No – rather than simply dieting, you have to make a lifestyle change.
My Challenge For You
So my challenge for you in the first day of the new year is to find a way for advocacy to become part of your everyday life. Find and block out regular time during your week to educate yourself, make phone calls, or attend meetings with like-minded people. Block it out on your calendar. Schedule it in your planner. Bottom line: We need you, and if you burn out from doing ALL OF THE THINGS your presence will be missed.
I, for one, will do my part by providing you with information about what’s important right now, why it’s important, and how you can advocate for or against it. Know that the actions that I propose here aren’t meant to be clever jabs at a new administration – they are actions intended to both educate you about important issues and educate your elected officials that you know what you’re talking about. An educated, motivated electorate is a heckuva powerful thing, and that’s what we’re building. Bravo, fellow citizen activist!
Oppose the REINS Act
One quick action item for when offices open this week: there are reports that the GOP is planning to ram the REINS Act through the House right out of the gate, and you need to know what it is and how it could destroy rational government.
The REINS Act is terrifying. But it’s being sold as a cost-saving measure and a way to “rein” in governing by agency. You can see the GOP “sales pitch” here and a great summary from the NRDC of the consequences of REINS here. Here’s the long and the short of it. Under the Act, any regulation with an impact of over $100 million (which is not that high of a threshold to meet when addressing regulations of a national impact) has to be approved by both houses within 70 days or it will not become law. Currently it’s the other way around – agency regulations that are passed through regular rulemaking procedures become law unless Congress acts to invalidate them under the Congressional Review Act of 1996. So, Congress already has a way to pull back an over-reaching agency – the GOP just hasn’t had the votes to do so. But, with this regulation Congress has to affirmatively act in order to retain the regulation.
Here’s how it would work in practice, with just a smidge of background to help explain:
It’s important to understand that Congress actually has to give an agency the authority to issue regulations on any issue. So Congress may say that government should limit pollutants, but delegates specifics – like what level of a pollutant is dangerous – to an agency. Basically, through legislation Congress makes the broad sweeping policy decisions and tasks agencies with the granular decisions that will implement that policy.
The agency then studies the issue – often for years – by doing studies, engaging scientists and experts, consulting with industry and holding public hearings. It then issues the rule – which Congress can then invalidate if both houses vote to do so.
Under the REINS Act, the agency would still go through all of these steps – costly and time consuming studies, analysis, industry consultation and hearings. But after it issues rules through that deliberative process, both houses of Congress would have to affirmatively vote in favor of them within 70 days for them to take effect. In the course of deciding whether to vote yay or nay within those 70 days, Congress would probably hold hearings and second-guess the reasoned and articulated decisions of agency and industry experts – who they entrusted to make those decisions in the first place. If they don’t have time to read the bills that are before them now, I have no idea how they’ll review and act on the agency’s rulemaking record within 70 days.
This is micromanagement in its worst – and most political – form. What happens if a new rule impacts big oil? Would a congressman who gets a large amount of his/her donations from big oil be able to vote for that rule? How would industry behave if they know that they can lobby/purchase votes from members of Congress after the whole rulemaking process is over anyway? What happens when a member of Congress gets pushback from their constituents that they approve of too many regulations – do they then vote “no” on a regulation just to appear reasonable? Do they horsetrade a vote against a regulation from the EPA this week for a vote on a bill coming up next week?
You can see why I’m concerned.
The bigger problem: the House already voted in favor of this once before – very much divided on party lines – so they will try to ram this through right away on Tuesday. Here’s the role call vote where you can check on how your rep voted for the REINS Act for yourself. And then call your Representative’s DC Office right away this week – because they are the ones closest to the vote itself, which will come fast.
Here’s a long-ish script that you can use as a template for your comments. Say:
I am a constituent and registered voter in ______. I have a message for Representative _____. May I leave that with you?
I would like Representative X to vote nay on the REINS Act. I do not have a bill number, because it’s my understanding that it will be introduced and passed right away.
I know that Representative X believes in preserving our democratic system of government – and that she/he is in favor of making sure that lobbyists and big businesses can’t purchase votes. That’s what “drain the swamp” was supposed to mean, wasn’t it? But by requiring congress to vote on regulations, the REINS Act gives lobbyists a chance to lobby members of Congress to vote for their interests – rather than mine. This Act encourages more backroom politics and horse trading.
I’m also concerned with how wasteful REINS is, and I don’t want my tax dollars spent this way. Every regulation would have to be reviewed by your office, and if Congress has hearings on a regulation that will cost even more. Who’s going to pay for all of this? If a regulation is invalidated, that’s millions of taxpayer dollars wasted. What’s the point of even having the agencies decide something if big business is just going to lobby Congress to vote for it? It’s just more wasteful corruption that I thought we voted against in November.
If you don’t want an agency to make regulations, you can take back the authority you gave them in their enabling statute. Or you can vote against a particular regulation under the Congressional Review Act of 1996.
I’ll be watching to see how Representative X votes on this issue. Thanks for your time.
Okay, everyone – welcome to a new year that gives us a chance to make the world an even better place than it is already. Have a wonderful holiday!
Let’s get to work.
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.- Albert Einstein
Not getting our newsletter yet? Join us here!